Not big enough for Billy?

02:17, Jan 30 2014
BACK THEN: Billy Connolly amusing a packed out Trafalgar Centre audience in 2009.

Billy Connolly won't be coming to Nelson because of the closure of the Trafalgar Centre.

His New Zealand promoter Ian Magan said the Scottish comedian loves Nelson and very much wants to come back but will play Blenheim instead. Mr Magan said other events had also been affected, and says the lack of a large-size venue is a "huge problem for your city".

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese shares her views on the lack of a performance centre in the region:

The sudden closures of the Trafalgar Centre and the Nelson School of Music have inevitably had some impacts. If we'd been able to give the promoters of the Billy Connolly show more lead time a venue in Nelson may have been secured.

Perhaps at Saxton or at an existing performance venue like the Theatre Royal held over two nights. The feedback from performers says the Theatre Royal is a top class venue with professional management. It is a venue that event promoters seek out.

It's important to recognise venues that already exist and to know what works well. We are not without a regional performance venue, in fact, we have more than one.


In the case of the Nelson School of Music, we don't just have a venue of regional importance; we have a venue that is internationally recognised for its acoustic merit.

Venues like the Nelson School of Music and Theatre Royal underpin cultural tourism. The Adam Chamber Music Festival stands out as a high value event that is receiving world-wide recognition. Its home is here in Nelson.

As mayor I am having urgent discussions with the Nelson School of Music Board, and other potential partners, on undertaking the upgrade work to reopen the auditorium's doors because this venue matters to Nelson.

In our mix of cultural venues the church facilities add another valuable layer. Consider the Cathedral, Headingly Centre and Annesbrook. There will be others.

Now we have privately owned venues coming into that mix with the Rutherford Hotel and old St John's.

Not bad for a place that only holds its city status by virtue of a cathedral or, as the Bishop reminds us, by virtue of the Bishop's See.

So, despite some critical issues to resolve with the Nelson School of Music and the Trafalgar Centre, it is not a cultural venue desert out there. Over many generations Nelsonians have supported our performing arts sector. I am confident that support will continue.

What are we missing?

We are missing a large concert hall - a 1200 seat venue. A place with theatre-style seating, good sound, and back stage gear that makes dramatics happen. And why don't we have one? The usual reason, it costs money, and we have to decide who pays.

Nelson ratepayers made it clear in the last term of council that they won't foot the bill for upwards of $35 million cash or debt to build this venue.

So, right now, do I think Nelson is up for a large regional performance venue, a Performing Arts Centre or Town Hall, whichever way you want to describe it?

No. Do I think bringing previous proposals back would play havoc with our debt levels and credit rating leading to an increased interest rate to borrow on all projects? Yes.

But local government plans ahead. With new legislation requiring 30-year infrastructure planning we might want to consider how we'll continue to deliver cultural venues and experiences to our community and visitors.

A large auditorium should be in that consideration but it will need a different funding model. The Suter redevelopment project has some good lessons in how to get things done.

I would add to this plan some forward thinking about how we wish to be entertained and engaged. It would be a good idea to think event and performance as much as venue.

But top of my list for actions and results in the next 18 months is ensuring the viability and vibrancy of our existing venues. We've had three key venues in limbo - the Trafalgar Centre, Theatre Royal and the School of Music for the last six years - and that's not good enough. In 2014 we need to do better than good intentions.

Before I started answering this question I'd chatted to my 26 year old son in Australia. Last weekend he'd flown interstate to go to Big Day Out - at Flemington Racecourse complete with Pearl Jam.

I am envious. Next weekend he's off to Laneway in Freemantle - with Lorde on the billing. My envy continues.

Interestingly, neither music festival involves a dedicated performance venue.

Of course our largest regional performance is on its way. Remember to get your tickets for Opera in the Park - 22 February at Trafalgar Park. Perhaps a little like Pearl Jam at Flemington? Magnificent.

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